Two very similar, evenly matched teams are meeting Monday in the Outback Bowl’s pairing of conference runners-up, which is why Georgia’s favored by a slim 3.5 points.
Both teams are strong defensively, with Georgia ranked third in the nation and Michigan State ranked fifth. Both teams have capable passing games but also have been productive on the ground. The Spartans have the more experienced QB in senior Kirk Cousins, but Georgia’s Aaron Murray looks to be more mobile. MSU has ace receiver B.J. Cunningham while Georgia has Orson Charles and Malcolm Mitchell. Georgia would seem to have a slight edge in the ground game if Isaiah Crowell holds up, and the Dogs tend to play better a) on the road and b) in bowl games.
Still, it’ll likely come down to which defense forces a turnover or two. I think Jarvis Jones and company will make the difference and get Georgia’s 2012 off to a great start.
And that’s exactly what’s on the mind of one reader in our holiday week Junkyard Mail …
Garrett Kee writes: Hey Bill, hope your Christmas was great and your New Year’s will be fantastic, hopefully watching a lot of football! I wanted to see what you thought on this. I think this could be one of the Dawgs’ most important games of the year in regards to a couple of things. Obviously, a win in any bowl gives you an edge for the upcoming year and gives your team a boost. From what I’ve read, a win over #13 Michigan State would put us in the pre-season Top 10. The most important thing I believe is to show that the Dawgs did steadily improve throughout the whole year. Let’s face it, the three best teams we played this year, Boise, Carolina and LSU, we all lost, so it has fueled naysayers that Georgia really didn’t get any better, they just got better because their “cupcake” schedule allowed them to. I feel like if we could come out with a win — doesn’t have to be a statement win — it would help reassure the whole Bulldog Nation that Georgia will be ready to make a run in 2012. Go Dawgs!
If Georgia doesn’t get hit too badly with underclassmen leaving early for the NFL, I have a feeling the Bulldogs may enter the 2012 season as a Top 10 team even without a win in the Outback Bowl, thanks to a combination of returning talent and a favorable schedule. But you’re certainly correct that notching the season’s 11th victory against a Top 20 team would improve Georgia’s image and make up for the 0-2 start in terms of the national media — as well as bolstering support in the Bulldog Nation.
Harrison Gaines writes: Bill, like all Georgia fans I’m pleased with how the revised 2012 schedule worked out, but I’m wondering where the conference goes from here. I keep reading conflicting things about the likelihood of a nine-game conference schedule in the future. On the one hand, I’d much rather see Georgia play Alabama than Buffalo. But adding another conference game probably would make it tougher for the SEC champion to make it to the BCS title game and would mean fewer home games some years. What do you think?
With nonconference schedules already set for several years and the buyouts from them rather expensive, I don’t think adding another conference game is likely to happen for a while, if ever. I know that sticking with the current eight-game model would mean long gaps between meetings with teams from the other division. And I have heard the argument that eventually going to a nine-game conference schedule would help TV ratings (and likely boost SEC licensing fees) with every team eliminating one cupcake and playing another SEC team. But as UGA athletic director Greg McGarity has pointed out, for schools like Georgia and South Carolina and Florida that have an in-state BCS nonconference rival they play every year, the nine-game model would really be limiting. And, frankly, as long as Georgia and Auburn play every year, I’m fine with only seeing the Hogs or the Maroon Bulldogs a couple of times per decade.
Trey Jarrard writes: I know that currently Dawg fans everywhere are concerned with the bowl game, recruiting, scheduling, and who we will lose to the NFL draft, but one question cries out for an answer every single year and we never get it. During Mark Richt’s tenure at UGA, the offensive line is plagued with injuries year in and year out. We get some of the best recruits in the country, and it’s not that these guys don’t live up to their potential, but rather they get injured in practice before they ever really get a chance to play to their potential. At what point should the coaching staff step back and start asking some serious questions? Are we doing the right drills? Strength and conditioning? Every year it seems like our O-line is supposed to loaded, but before the first game we’re decimated and relegated to playing backups for the rest of year. Now this year, Ben Jones and crew stepped up, but it was the same exact story as every other year before the season started. It’s one thing if these guys get hurt in a game like Dallas Lee, but it’s a whole different issue when they’re never making it on the field. I was just wondering if I’m the only one that’s noticed this yearly preseason evaporation of our offensive line?
The offensive line situation during Richt’s tenure hasn’t always been quite as dire as you paint it, but you’re not the first fan I’ve heard ask that question. In general the OL is an area that tends to see a lot of physical wear and tear. I think perhaps the tremendous size of Georgia’s offensive linemen in recent years has been a factor — particularly in the case of Trinton Sturdivant, whose knees didn’t appear capable of supporting his playing size — and in general UGA’s conditioning wasn’t what it should have been before this season. I’m encouraged, however, that Georgia was able to make it through this season with overall improved OL play despite a severe lack of depth. Looks like new OL coach Will Friend was a great hire.
PAC Man writes: It amuses me that whenever UGA has a modicum of football success, its delusional fan base starts crowing about “them Dawgs” getting back where they belong. Come off it! Outside your little corner of the country Georgia is not viewed as a major football program and never has been! You’re not at the same level as a traditional power like USC! You’re not even up there with Texas, Notre Dame, Penn State, Michigan or Oklahoma! Get real and accept that you’re a midlevel program that rides on the coattails of LSU and Alabama!
I hate to burst your West Coast bubble, PAC, but it’s not just UGA fans who consider Georgia a major program. Just this week, Forbes magazine ranked the Top 10 “most valuable” college football teams in America (based on revenue generated) and Georgia placed seventh, behind Texas, Notre Dame, Penn State, LSU, Michigan and Alabama. Rounding out the Top 10 and trailing the Dogs were Arkansas, Auburn and Oklahoma. Your mighty Trojans didn’t make the list.
Got something on your mind concerning UGA athletics or a question for the Junkyard Blawg? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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— Bill King, Junkyard Blawg